Thanks a million!

It’s Christmas time, and I can’t think of a more perfect gift than this lil’ old blog reaching its 1 millionth hit.

Now, it’s official – that’s exactly what it’s done, a few months shy of its third anniversary. Thank you!

In addition to thanking you, my visitors, there are a few other people I must acknowledge. For without these individuals, my blog would not have reached this milestone for many, many more moons to come.

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“Kitchen Nightmares” sticks its knife in New Jersey

Gordon Ramsay is in love with the Garden State.

Is there any doubt? His Fox series “Kitchen Nightmares” has featured two New Jersey restaurants – including Campania’s in Fair Lawn and the now-defunct Hannah & Mason’s in Cranbury – in its first two seasons. And now, as the third season kicks off, the show includes a one-two punch of Jersey goodness with two brand new episodes taking place in the Garden State.

Flamangos Roadhouse - pre-Gordon Ramsay makeover - is the subject of this week's "Kitchen Nightmares" episode./Credit Ava Gacser

First up is one I first reported on last spring. Flamangos Roadhouse in Whitehouse Station will be the “Kitchen Nightmares” subject at 9 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 2. The Hunterdon County eatery – located on Main Street adjacent to the train station – reportedly changed its across-the-board menu to strictly American and also changed its name to The Junction.

Then, only a few days later – Friday, Feb. 5 to be exact – “Kitchen Nightmares” returns to New Jersey for an episode featuring Bazzini at 28 Oak Street in Ridgewood. Bill Pitcher, author of Second Helpings, has a favorable, first-person account of the post-Ramsay Bazzini makeover.

The wrath of Ramsay strikes again in New Jersey

A little birdie (thanks, Chuck!) whispered in my ear that none other than Michelin-starred chef and reality show star Gordon Ramsay has dropped into the bucolic setting of Hunterdon County, New Jersey, this week to film an episode of “Kitchen Nightmares.”

Flamangos Roadhouse is on Main Street in Whitehouse Station./Ava Gacser

Flamangos Roadhouse is on Main Street in Whitehouse Station. Note the black plastic bags over the windows./Photos by Ava Gacser

The establishment in question is Flamangos Roadhouse (yes, that’s Flamangos, not Flamingos or Flamencos) on Main Street in Whitehouse Station. The restaurant – which is located adjacent to the Whitehouse train station (the train lumbered by while I was there) – offers a plethora of entrees, according to this site, including American, BBQ, Cajun and Creole, Caribbean, French, International, Italian, New American, Tropicali and Vegeterian.

flamangos1

In other words, it’s everything under the sun – and exactly the thing that Ramsay has pointed out time and time again on “Kitchen Nightmares” not to do.

The restaurant, from what I can determine, is owned by the Csepi family. The Csepis have evidently been looking into ways to improve their business, which is evidenced by a testimonial on The Restaurant Doctor Bill Marvin’s website.

flamangos sign

What does Ramsay have in mind for Flamangos? Your guess is as good as mine, but I would assume he’s going to suggest playing up its history and charm: The building dates back to 1845, according to a bio on http://www.RestaurantPassion.com, and was once the Union Hotel, which housed railroad employees.

It’s my guess that you can expect to see Flamangos featured on an episode of Fox’s “Kitchen Nightmares” sometime this fall.

I hope the Csepi family has a good experience working with Ramsay, and that their restaurant fares better than some of the other establishments that have received a “Kitchen Nightmares” makeover.

One such place – Hannah & Mason’s in Cranbury – was featured on an episode of the program in November and is now permanently closed (thanks for the tip, Helen Siswein!). I interviewed the two owners – Christopher Posner and Brian Kelly – of Hannah & Mason’s last fall, just before their episode aired, and I can promise you that they were not happy with the changes Ramsay had implemented and had no intentions of keeping them. (You can read the full story here or watch the full episode here.)

Posner and Kelly told me that on the whole they did not find working with Ramsay to be a pleasant experience, and that they had already determined they would not adhere to his menu changes.

“We just found that it was not sound advice,” Posner told me at the time. “We know our customer base, we know our area, we know our demographic, and he didn’t.”

Sadly, Hannah & Mason’s fate is not all that uncommon once Chef Ramsay has come calling. According to an article in The Herald, more than half of the restaurants featured on “Kitchen Nightmares” and its British counterpart, “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares,” have closed or been sold. The Herald says that half of the 20 U.S. establishments taken on by Ramsay have closed.

“The website for restaurant reviewers Eating Long Island, based in Garden City, New York, dubbed Ramsay ‘the new Black Widow’ after three restaurants he gave the treatment to in the area all closed,” the article states. Here’s one of the actual posts:

R.I.P. – Peter’s in Babylon

Through our comments section on East of NYC tonight, we learned that Peter’s, the Italian joint in Babylon which rose to fame on Fox’s Kitchen Nightmare’s has closed down. Long Island doesn’t have a very good track record with that show as The Mixing Bowl, Trobiano’sPeter’s (and there was one more that I can’t remember offhand) have all shuttered their doors. Some have closed as a result of better opportunities and other were just poorly run. I guess we can consider Gordon Ramsay the new Black Widow.

The Herald points out that perhaps Ramsay’s makeovers are too expensive given today’s economy. For example, it says that he changed the menu of J Willy’s Barbeque House in South Bend, Ind., from pizza to sandwiches and ribs. Ramsay visited in February, the article states, and the restaurant was shuttered by spring.

The Herald quotes  J Willy’s owner, John Ittenbach, as saying, “Gordon Ramsay has had a profound effect on my management style, which included making everything we serve fresh, each and every day, and to never lower our standards, no matter what.

“Although this approach is generally considered to be the gold standard of restaurant operations, this approach to management gets called into question when operating in survival mode, as we were.

“With food prices increasing and customer counts decreasing in record numbers over the past several months, we were put in the unenviable position of cutting our standards below which we were comfortable, or else ceasing operations altogether.”

“Recognising my passion to offer customers the best dining experience possible and, at the same time, vowing never to cut corners again, the decision to quit operations was inevitable.”

The article does make brief mention of Cranbury’s Hannah & Mason’s, too, saying that the restaurant was “also unavailable to take orders after its website was shut down and phone lines cut.”

Other restaurants touched by Ramsay that are no longer in existence include:  Seascape in Islip, N.Y., Sebastian’s of Burbank, Calif., and Lela’s of Pomona, Calif.

The question remains whether Ramsay’s efforts had any effect on the viability of these restaurants or if they were already doomed.

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